SPRING CRUISE 2023: Sailing Solo on the Georgia Coast


March 21/2023:  After leaving Lunacy ensconced at Brunswick Landing Marina down in Georgia back in November, I did return to visit her the following month for several days. But I didn’t sail anywhere. I spent time instead working on a few boat jobs and also confabbed with an old sailing journalism associate, Tim Zimmerman, who was there on his new-to-him Able 50 Laughing Gull. I returned again just a couple of weeks ago, bound and determined to go somewhere… but still I was uncertain as to where.

Another esteemed sailing journalism associate, Chris Museler, had recently filled my head with fairy tales about Man ‘O War Cay in the Abacos, and I was thinking I might try to sail there. If only the wind and weather would align to get me there promptly! Which, of course, they didn’t. Instead they nudged me north, so I took my time, sailing as much as possible, and explored some bits of the Georgia coast I had bypassed before.

First stop was in the Back River, behind Doboy Island, after a fine sail outside from St. Simons Sound up to Doboy Sound. I arrived in time to get my anchor down before sunset. Entering Doboy Sound was a bit tricky. Several buoys were missing and the channel had shifted position


The following morning I motored a short distance across Doboy Sound to anchor in the Duplin River off the southwest end of Sapelo Island. Sailing up the coast the day before, I noticed a great plume of smoke coming from somewhere ahead of me. During my night in the Back River, I could smell the smoke. Arriving at Sapelo, I found the source, what was presumably a controlled burn taking place somewhere on the island


That same afternoon I launched the dinghy and landed on a float behind the island’s ferry dock. This was a tentative foray, as the literature online proclaimed that access to Sapelo is restricted and a permit is needed to go ashore. Once ashore, however, I found everyone was friendly, and there were no signs or people telling me I shouldn’t be there. So I hiked down to a complex of buildings south of the ferry dock. Here I found the University of Georgia Marine Institute and also the stately Reynolds Mansion (above). This was originally built by Thomas Spalding, who developed the island as a slave plantation in the 19th century. The house, which was trashed during the Civil War, was rebuilt by Howard Coffin, founder of the Hudson Motor Car Company, in the early 20th century. It finally ended up with tobacco heir R.J. Reynolds, Jr., who ultimately opened the island to the public. It is now possible to visit and stay at the mansion, which can accommodate 16 to 25 guests for 2 days or more


Outside the university’s Marine Institute I found a gator pond, with a gator in it


Back aboard the boat that evening, I spent a good hour watching a family of three dolphins hunt fish in the river around me


The following day I went ashore again and hiked north to the village of Hog Hammock, an old Gullah community founded by descendants of the slaves who once worked the plantation here. I was hoping I might score a six-pack of beer at the village store


Business hours, however, are unpredictable


I also found the well-maintained St. Luke Baptist Church, one of two churches in town


I was surprised to discover that downtown Hog Hammock was in fact the site of the controlled burn I had noted earlier


The town’s current favorite son is Allen Bailey, who has played defensive end for both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Falcons


LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 19: Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Allen Bailey (97) scores a touchdown during a NFL game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Rams on November 19, 2018, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Allen in action!


Hog Hammock, a scenic view


The following morning I found ominous clouds about, threatening rain


In spite of this, I motored a short distance up the ICW through spates of random precipitation and anchored in Blackbeard Creek, off Blackbeard Island, the next island north of Sapelo. The creek is pretty narrow, and when on the boat it seemed I was anchored too close to shore. Off the boat it seemed I had plenty of room


I made my first foray ashore in the late afternoon, after the rain cleared off for good. Studying Tom Zydler’s very detailed Cruising Guide to the Georgia Coast, I saw there was supposed to be a dock on a tiny creek (that’s the creek there, on the right) just off the main Blackbeard Creek, where one could get ashore. I ascended the creek in my dinghy and found a ruined dock, where I managed to land. But I could not hike inland from there, as the dike across the marsh that once connected the dock to the island’s trail network was gone


The ruined dock. Tom’s guide is more than 20 years old now, so some particulars, of course, are out of date. It is still a valuable resource. This dock does not appear on any current electronic charts that I am aware of


The following morning I motored out of Blackbeard Creek in the dinghy and landed on the north beach. Hiking a good ways down this beach past various clumps of ruined trees that are embedded in it, I came finally to an accessible trailhead


Ruined beach tree in detail


The island’s jungly interior. Blackbeard is a National Wildlife Refuge. The story goes the island was once frequented by the pirate Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard, and that he buried treasure here. That may or may not be true, but loggerhead sea turtles do come ashore here to lay and bury eggs on the beach in the summer. A different sort of treasure. Back in 1878, during a raging yellow fever epidemic, the island was also used as a quarantine station. All vessels bound for Savannah and St. Augustine were required to stop here first for inspection and fumigation


A genuine wildlife encounter


The following day there came a fierce southeasterly breeze, which I used to fly north up the coast. Exiting the Sapelo Sound inlet was again something of an adventure, as most buoys were missing and the channel had shifted. This isn’t unusual on the southeast U.S. coast, but if you dig down a bit in the user notes on Navionics charts, you can usually get a good sense of where the good water lies. Sailing on a snappy broad reach, I made it all the way up to Port Royal Sound, just across the border in South Carolina, and managed to drop anchor in Station Creek, just inside the entrance, just as the sun was setting


The following morning I sailed up to Beaufort and picked up a mooring


Job one once parked was a reconfiguration of the propane system, as the regulator and/or solenoid switch had failed. I removed this and hiked a mile to a big hardware store to get the bits I needed to replumb the system


Later I toured the town a bit and found this lovely structure, the Dr. Joseph Johnson House, built in 1860. It served as a hospital during the Union occupation of the town through the duration of the Civil War and is now a private home


Oyster shells set in concrete on the town’s riverfront


My kind of commerce!




After a couple of days in Beaufort, I set sail again with a fair wind behind me. Flying only a headsail, I ran down the Beaufort River (and under this bridge to Parris Island, a popular government resort), across Port Royal Sound, and then down Skull Creek behind Hilton Head Island

After spending a night anchored in Skull Creek, I puttered around to Palmetto Bay Marina on Broad Creek. I scored a great long-term slip space across from a large fleet of jet-skis!

So… Lunacy will be napping here for a bit before I bring her further north. I’ll be dropping in on her again soon, when I return to Hilton Head to give a presentation on my new book, The Boy Who Fell to Shore.

I’ll share details on that presently.

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